In the aftermath of Owen Slater’s death, one would think the prime focus for Boardwalk Empire might be the emotional reaction of one Margaret Thompson (née Schroeder (née-er Rohan)), Owen’s enamored mistress and the mother of his unborn child. But Margaret is nowhere to be seen in this episode — she has been rustled off to safety, along with her children, while Nucky holes up in his office with a troupe of armed bodyguards and, as always, Eddie Kessler, who earns his dramatic keep in this week’s episodes after two and a half seasons as babbling whipping boy. Eddie vows to Nucky that he will not leave his side, assuring his boss that the team of men assigned with their protection are nothing but hired goons. Eddie believes that he is the only man whom Nucky can really trust, and asserts his unwavering position beside him — a noble loyalty reserved for very few figures in the Boardwalk universe. Knowing full well what his employer does for a living, how he conducts business, the corners he cuts and the victims he has tolled (not to mention how badly he himself is treated by the man), Eddie somehow grants Nucky a love and worship you won’t find elsewhere on the Atlantic City boardwalk. As Eddie affirms at the beginning of the episode, Nucky is his life. And his adherence to this life in particular might be what costs him any at all: while standing tall in the defense of his boss, Eddie is shot in the side and begins losing blood rather quickly.
Of course, Nucky doesn’t discover the wound until the two of them have managed their escape of Nucky’s office — overrun with Gyp Rosetti’s men who have taken out all of Nucky’s — and nabbed a nearby car from a terrified passerby. The opening sequence, which follows Nucky and Eddie as they hide out in the former’s suite, dodging bullets and doling out a few of their own, sneaking out through a desolate alleyway and talking a townsperson into lending them his vehicle, is uniquely exciting for Boardwalk of late. And this isn’t because people’s lives are rarely in danger on this show, but because of how intimate this scene in particular feels. The pairing of Nucky with his long-suffering secretary Eddie as the two hapless heroes hit the road for safety has a fun, sort of darkly comic feel — reminiscent in a way of Bobe Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road to movies of the 1940s and ‘50s, mixed with the morbid taste of a first-person shooter like Medal of Honor or Halo or SOCOM or whatever it was that my college housemates were always playing when I wanted to use the TV for Mario RPG.
Quickly, Nucky learns of Eddie’s affliction… the first symptom being the latter falling nearly unconscious while steering the getaway car off the road. Nucky apprehends driving duties and opts to take Eddie to the hospital, but is beaten to the punch when a slew of Rosetti’s men swarm out of the bulrushes as he arrives at the medical building, forcing Nucky to hightail it “across the fence” to Chalky White’s side of town.
Chalky and his army allow hospice for Nucky and a suffering Eddie, even coughing up Chalky’s aspiring son-in-law/med student to tend to Mr. Kessler’s needs as best he can. One of the most heartbreaking moments during the touch-and-go-for-a-while procedure is when Chalky asks Nucky to identify any family that Eddie has, and Nucky sheepishly admits to having no knowledge on the subject. Here Nucky has a man who was willing to die for him and he can’t even identify a single family member of his.
Not only in Eddie but in Chalky does Nucky discover an insuperable loyalty. Chalky and his men turn away Gyp Rosetti’s substantial reward offering for the disclosure of Nucky, instead keeping the former treasurer safe in transporting him out of town… that is, before Nucky has a third-act change of heart, opting instead to stay in Atlantic City and take what’s his. Following a somber conversation with a rambling Eddie, half in English and half in German and all in the thickest sheath of sorrow — Eddie admits to having, or fabricates entirely, a wife and two sons (news to Nucky) while trying to recollect the words to an old rhyme about keeping your spirits high… a perfect testament to this perpetually upbeat victim of circumstance.
Nucky meets up with his brother Eli via the help of Nucky’s nephew/Eli’s son Willy, who arranges a safe house in his place of employ (closed for business for the day). Eli delivers Chicago’s finest to Nucky, who (taking a lesson from the true friends he discovers on this fateful day), rushes to the aid of his innocent nephew when unfamiliar men approach. Al Capone closes out the episode by promising Nucky his allegiance, in the most snarky and snide way conceivable, foreshadowing a good deal of action to follow. Nucky has earned the partnership of Torrio’s team, meaning that Joe Masseri and Gyp Rosetti have their work cut out for them in the remainder of the season.
While Nucky, Eddie, and Chalky are out on their wild adventure through the coast of Jersey, Richard Harrow sets up his own ominous conclusion. After Rosetti’s men take control of Gillian’s brothel (leaving her in a position of esteem), she has two of her new thugs escort Richard off the premises for good — she’ll have no more of his interference with her systematic brainwashing of young Tommy… but Richard will not go quietly into this night. He’s got a whole lot of guns ready to use next week…And finally, Lucky Luciano is arrested when he tries to sell heroin to an undercover cop. Meyer tells him not to. That’s about the size of it for those schmucks.
Next week, the finale: Chicago Vs. the New Yorkers. Richard Vs. Gillian. Lucky Vs. the Judicial System. What fates will befall which characters?
[Photo Credit: HBO]